Bismarck's return uncertain
Bismarck's return uncertainSHARE
The Sharks look set to be without the services of Springbok stalwart Bismarck du Plessis for a considerable period of time.
Du Plessis went under the knife in August last year, after tearing knee ligaments in a Rugby Championship Test against Argentina.
It was initially expected that he would return in the early stages of the Super Rugby season, but recent reports from Durban suggested his progress on the road to full recovery is slower than anticipated and he could miss the first half of the season.
Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford, speaking on the team's website, did not give an indication of the exact return date for the 28-year-old – who has been capped 46 times for his country.
However, Bashford admitted the hooker will miss considerable game time.
"Unfortunately, we do have a couple of niggles, especially in the front row," he told the Sharks website.
"The only major one is Bismarck du Plessis, who will miss some game time."
Prop Dale Chadwick could also miss the start of the season, the result of a stress fracture in his foot.
Good news for Sharks fans however is that centre Frans Steyn, who missed the latter part of the 2012 season with an ankle injury, will be ready for their first Super Rugby match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 23.
The Sharks play warm-up matches against the Leopards (Pietermaritzburg) and Pumas (Nelspruit) in the next fortnight.
Apart from Du Plessis, there has been minimal disruptions to the squad.
"It's not just the fact that we have only two new players in Franco van der Merwe and Butch James who have come in from the outside [Lions], but some of the so-called youngsters are into their second and third campaigns of Currie Cup and Super Rugby," Bashford said.
"So although we might be 'young' in certain areas, those players have had a fair amount of experience at this level.
"There isn't a lot of change in the squad which is always nice.
"Most of the squad has been together for a long time, so from a preparation point of view, we're not kicking off from a zero base, we're working on things that continue to evolve all the time."